March 04, 2011
"War has a gender-and it is male," wrote author and essayist Virginia Woolf in 1938. Eh, I don't think that is so true today. In fact, enough has changed among warfighters that Woolf might have been astounded that "A Room of One's Own" for modern women would include working at war--destroying toxic chemicals, rigging cargo, commanding the fleet. I think Woolf might have been astounded that the husbands of those working women are the ones we now perceive as being in need of support.
This week Military.com printed a story about the rising rate of divorce among females in uniform. Compared to their male counterparts, eight percent of female service members divorce each year compared to three percent of male service members. Experts interviewed for the story, as well as research from the RAND Corporation, concluded that the reason for the discrepancy was because there is no support structures for male spouses.
Which is silly if you ask me. For one, it presupposes that most female spouses get their support from support networks provided by the installation. Which isn't true. For two, it assumes men would attend a support group, sit in a circle, join hands and sing old Mark Jacobs tunes. I just can't see it, can you?
Instead, I see the real problem of supporting male spouses as this: Support has a gender-and it is female. Women are the ones who tend and befriend. Research published by Shelley Taylor and her group at UCLA in 2000 showed that men and women respond physiologically to stress with the ol' "fight or flight" response. Our heart rates pump. We get all aggressive. We run away, zone out, drink up. Got that.
Yet this research showed that women are far more likely to respond to stress in the "tend and befriend" pattern. The research suggests that as a biological response to stress, women create and maintain social networks. Men just don't do that as much. That makes me think that the skills that are part and parcel of a successful military marriage come harder to men. Does that mean the government needs to pop in there and create a buncha programs designed specifically for the seven percent of military spouses who are male?
I don't think so. In fact, I'm kind of worried that this focusing on supporting male spouses is a smokescreen keeping us from looking at the deep structures in our society that are clearly interfering with females in uniform and their male civilian spouses. A divorce rate that is more than twice as high for females in uniform than it is for their male counterparts is a burden on our females in uniform. I don't want to be the only one who is interested in knowing what really stands between them and the happily-ever-after they deserve.Jacey Eckhart is a military life consultant in Washington, DC. She is the author of "The Homefront Club" and the voice behind the award-winning CD "These Boots." Facebook Jacey or contact her at email@example.com.